Home construction class for high schoolers works on first new building since 2008 slowdown

Sixteen-year-old Justin Schrader, perched high on a scaffold Tuesday, positioned a piece of plywood before hammering it into place.

He and his classmates were finishing up the skeleton of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house at Glenn Street and Reddy Avenue. It's Del Norte County's first student-built house in six years, and for Schrader, whose father is a carpenter, it's a walk in his father's footsteps.

"This is way cooler than half walls," he said, referring to a project in the construction tech class he took at Del Norte High School last year. "I have a paid job lined up for the summer."

Schrader and about 19 other students from Del Norte High School and Castle Rock Charter School spent the 2013andndash;14 school year raising the walls on the new house. With help from local contractor Don Hartley and instructors Bill Stone and Louis Nova, the students will continue working on the house over the summer, putting in windows and installing floors and cabinets.

Hartley said he hopes to finish the house by next June.

The foundation for the new house was laid in September 2013, Stone said.

"This is student-driven and student-motivated," he said. "Students want the experience and training to earn a good honest career."

The Del Norte County Office of Education's last student-built house, at Keller and El Dorado streets, was finished in 2008, said Superintendent Don Olson. Construction on that house began in 2001.

One of the main challenges to building that house, Olson said, was a "lack of drive." To combat this, he said, the Office of Education partnered with a licensed professional contractor.

"I couldn't believe how organized the work crew was," he said, referring to a visit he made to the building site last week. "(Hartley) was able to organize the flow of work for the students."

Another challenge to keeping the house construction program going after 2008 was a poor labor market, said Del Norte High School Principal Coleen Parker.

"The labor market wasn't there," she said. "The ROP program is designed to put kids to work, but if there's no work ..."

Now, Olson said the County Office of Education's goal is to offer a house construction program every two years. Students working on the house over the summer will also receive elective credits, he said.

For Castle Rock 10th-grader Kaitey Malone, who is one of two girls in the program, the work she's doing with the carpentry program is similar to work she does with her mom at home. Malone said she and her mother are currently in the middle of remodeling their home, but working at the house site allows her to know what it's like to be part of a team.

"This is my home away from home," she said.

Another benefit to partnering with Hartley, who has been in the construction industry for about 30 years, is his connections with others in the field, said DNHS senior Eric Turner.

Turner, who took wood shop last year, said learning how to read plans and going from the plans to the actual product was a challenge for him. But the real-life skills he has learned are invaluable, he says.

"Don is a real good contractor," he said. "If I do well in his class, I will have learned enough here and have his word to go out and get a good job."

Once the house's shell is up, Hartley said he will work with Matthew Fearing, a local electrician, and show his students how to construct the home's wiring. When the building is finished, the Del Norte High School's agricultural department will design the landscaping, Parker said.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.